In defence of repugnance

Mind 117 (468):899-933 (2008)
Abstract
I defend the 'Repugnant' Conclusion that for any possible population of happy people, a population containing a sufficient number of people with lives barely worth living would be better. Four lines of argument converge on this conclusion, and the conclusion has a simple, natural theoretical explanation. The opposition to the Repugnant Conclusion rests on a bare appeal to intuition. This intuition is open to charges of being influenced by multiple distorting factors. Several theories of population ethics have been devised to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion, but each generates even more counterintuitive consequences. The intuition opposing the Repugnant Conclusion is thus among the best candidates for an intuition that should be revised
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2008-12-28
Huemer (p.911) objects to the Average Utility Principle on the grounds that it implies:
The Sadistic Conclusion: In some circumstances, it would be better with respect to utility to add some unhappy people to the world (people with negative utility), rather than creating a larger number of happy people (people with positive utility).
This does seem counterintuitive, at least at first glance.  But further reflection reveals that it is not much of a move from the (not especially outrageous) claim that adding mediocre lives can make a world worse. For then we may expect that adding a great many mediocre lives could make a world much worse (transforming it from a predominantly flourishing world to a predominantly mediocre one).  In any case, if this is a harm at all, then it isn't surprising that it could outweigh the modest harm of adding a single moderately bad life.  We are tempted to draw a bright line between lives that are worth living and those that aren't, but ... (read more)
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